Traditionally, cardiologists have reached the heart through an incision in the breastbone. Now, many doctors and patients are opting for a minimally invasive surgery to lessen pain, minimize scarring and reduce recovery time.
On Thursday, Trinity Mother Frances Cardiothoracic Surgeon Neelan Doolabh, who has performed about 600 of these minimally invasive surgeries, tried something new: he simultaneously replaced two heart valves using this type of surgery.
"I'm 79 years old tomorrow," said Emmett Baker, Dr. Doolabh's patient.
Baker said he is a rancher and works at a prison in Tennessee Colony; both jobs require him to be back on his feet pretty quickly, even after having a double valve replacement.
"Both were leaking severely, which can lead to congestive heart failure, so the only option for him was to replace both the valves. In speaking with him, he wasn't interested in the traditional operation, which is dividing the breast bone," Dr. Doolabh said.
Dr. Doolabh said the traditional surgery would require six to eight weeks of recovery, time Baker said he needs to spend working, not healing. So instead, Dr. Doolabh tried something different.
"Traditionally, we would do the aortic valve through a small incision here on the front part of the chest and the mitral valve from one on the side. What we did for Mr. Baker, is through a variant of both of those incisions, you know, cut the distance in half," Dr. Doolabh explained.
Dr. Doolabh said performing both of the valve replacements at the same time is unique.
"This is my first one," he said. "It's just the one percent that are done through the rib and a lot of that is due to the way we were trained. None of us were taught to go in between the ribs to do heart surgery. Some of us have just developed techniques and learned from others and pushed the envelope a little bit in order to accomplish this."
So far, so good. Baker said he is a little sore, but he has already walked around the hospital less than 24 hours after his surgery. So, when can he return to his busy schedule?
"We should have him home between 24 to 48 hours, barring any complications and thereafter 10 days I'll let him do whatever he wants," Dr. Doolabh said.
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